When I Was Puerto Rican

when-I-was-puerto-rican

” ‘You’re almost señorita.  You shouldn’t be running wild with boys,’ [my mother] would tell me.  But I didn’t have anything in common with the girls my age…my sisters close to my age were not as interesting as the neighborhood boys who ran and climbed and didn’t mind getting dirty.”

Esmeralda Santiago grew up in rural Puerto Rico, sharing a modest home with her parents and seven siblings.  Her mother and father’s tumultuous relationship and on-again, off-again fighting worried her tremendously, but there was always somewhere to find joy: in the taste of ripe guavas, in the companionship of her brothers and sisters, and in the beauty of the countryside.  However, Esmeralda is not at all impressed by the inevitable process of growing up. Leaving behind a carefree childhood for the restrained life of a señorita spoils everything, she feels.  She can’t climb trees or run wild with the neighbor children like she used to, and the teenage boys’ glances burn into her skin and make her want to hide forever.  What’s the big deal about being a grown-up lady, anyway?  All you seem to get out of it is a husband to cook for, and little children crawling all over you.

Just when Esmeralda feels like she’s settling into her new, more grown-up role, everything changes.  The family moves all the way to New York, where everything is different, from the food to the language.  But she adapts, and triumphs, making it all the way to Harvard.  This funny, thoughtful, and bittersweet coming-of-age story is one you won’t want to miss.  If you’ve ever felt out of place, or felt like growing up is one big joke, this is the book for you.

Happy reading!

If you liked this book, give these a try:

The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales

Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa

Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah

We Need New Names by Noviolet Bulawayo

 

 

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Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

chopsticks“Two days ago, the famous concert pianist Gloria ‘Glory’ Fleming disappeared from Golden Hands Rest Facility, an institution for musical prodigies here in the Bronx.

Praised by critics as ‘The Brecht of the Piano,’ Ms. Fleming is known for her modern innovations on classical repertoire.  The young pianist received rave reviews until six months ago, when exhaustion caused an infamous performance at Carnegie Hall.  Fellow patients at Golden Hands recall the seventeen-year-old regularly playing the whimsical children’s waltz ‘Chopsticks,’ an obsession which worsened during her tenure at Golden Hands.

The evening she went missing, Gloria Fleming had apparently played the waltz for over seven hours.”

This book probably has less than two thousand words in it, but it tells a complete story through drawings, photos, screenshots, texted conversations, and musical scores.  It’s the story of a young romance-piano prodigy Gloria and her next-door neighbor Francisco.  The book follows the pair through Francisco’s banishment to boarding school, through Gloria’s breakdown and disappearance, and other events in their lives.

I loved the format of this interesting book! Not only is the story captivating, but it’s just so wonderful to look at.  Francisco is an artist, and the book is peppered with his beautiful drawings and paintings, as well as things like the admittance letter to the rest facility Gloria goes to, ticket stubs, and snapshots.  If you like John Green-type stories, about teenage romances, with a little mystery and philosophy mixed in, this one’s for you.

Happy Reading!

Book’s website:  http://chopsticksnovel.tumblr.com/

If you like this one, you might try:

Why We Broke Up “This novel tells the story of Min Green and how she and Ed Slaterton met at a party, saw a movie, followed an old woman, shared a hotel room, and broke each other’s hearts.” (From the website)

The Fault in Our Stars A tragic, tragic, love story-heavy on the philosophy.  Somehow, it has the same feel as Chopsticks to me.

Looking for Alaska  A boarding school romance-mystery-philosophy book.  I promise. You’ll love it!

The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales

tequilaworm“I wanted to play soccer on those beautiful playing fields. I wanted to get better at kicking with my head so I could go to college. I could get a good job and make enough money to buy a nice house for my parents and Lucy.

But to go and live at a school? Without my family?”

Sofia’s family loves stories: telling and re-telling them, inventing new ones, and sharing old ones.  Stories are what keeps them together, and keeps their Mexican heritage alive.  There are stories of the Easter cascarones, the stories of loved ones for Dia de los Muertos, and stories of quinceanera preparations and festivities.  Sofia knows that part of becoming a grown-up is being able to share these stories with others.  However, her own story is about to change drastically.

When Sofia is offered a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school over three hundred miles from her home, she is torn: should she stay at home, with everyone she loves, with everything she is familiar with?  Or should she pack up and move to a school where everyone is wealthier, whiter, and more privileged than she?  School may be difficult, but Sofia’s determined to go away, learn, and then come back and help her family.

Sofia’s sense of humor permeates this sensitive story:  from the play-by-play of eating the tequila worm (to prevent homesickness) to the descriptions of her mother’s endless stream of knitted doorstops and pencil toppers, this book will keep you laughing.  Her humorous stories have a deeper meaning, though: through them, Sofia can feel the love of her family and community.  By sharing them, she takes her place as an almost-grown-up in her family.

This is another Pura Belpré winner, named for the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library! I’m reviewing as many of the Pura winners as I can; I hope you like this one. Would you like to read along with me? Here’s a list of past winners!

Author’s website: http://violacanales.blogspot.com/

Happy Reading!

Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa

cuba15They all looked at me: Mom, perturbed; Abuela, skeptical; Abuelo, curious; and Dad, still upset…Must I invite these people to my party? I thought, trying to hold firm. ‘Being the one turning fifteen and all,’ I said to my audience, ‘I just want to say that I would rather have gone on a trip to Spain.  But I was not given that choice.’

Abuela opened her mouth. ‘However,’ I continued, silencing her, ‘since my dear grandmother has offered to throw me a quince party, I have gratefully accepted the idea.’ If only to find out why, I thought.”

Violeta Paz has just turned fifteen years old, and her Cuban grandmother insists that she must have a quinceañera, a traditional coming-of-age celebration for young women.  The party is supposed to mark her transition into young womanhood, but Violeta just isn’t sure if all the tulle and dancing is for her.  Attendants?  A gigantic, fluffy dress?  Not for Violeta.  Couldn’t she just go to Spain, like her aunt got to do?  Besides, she’s not even all Cuban! Her mom is Polish, and who ever heard of a Polish-Cuban quince?

Violeta reaches a compromise with her family:  she gets to design her own party, within reason. (After all, she is definitely NOT the boss when it comes to money.) There will be tradición, si, but also new elements to her party.  And in the process of learning all about what this rite-of-passage business actually means(thanks to her guidebook: Quinceañera for the Gringo Dummy), Violeta learns  who she really is, and to love and appreciate her heritage.  Sure, her family may be irritating, obnoxious, and her dad’s devotion to his bowling-shoes-and-shorts combo is not the classiest, but they’re just perfect for her.

This book is written in first person, as though we’re listening to Violeta’s thoughts-and you’ll want to do that, because she’s super funny! Readers will enjoy her running commentary, sprinkled with sarcasm and a hefty dose of puns.  High school through her eyes is pretty hilarious, actually.  So, if you’re looking for a humorous, well-written book with awesome bicultural elements, this is a great place to start. Oh, and notice that shiny award on the cover?  It’s a Pura Belpre honor-an award that goes to work celebrating the Latino/a experience.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be featuring lots of Belpre winners, so stay tuned!

Author’s website

Happy Reading!

Want more quince stories, or more books about the Latino/Latina experience?  You might like these:

¡Scandalosa! Evie’s sixteenera might not ever happen, if she can’t keep her grades up.

Estrella’s Quinceañera Estrella’s mom has been waiting to throw her daughter a traditional quince for years now, but mariachi bands and puffy dresses give Estrella hives.

Um…is it too late for me to get my own quince?!  So much fun!

The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

parablesowerpg“The child in each of us
Knows paradise.
Paradise is home.
Home as it was
Or home as it should have been.

Paradise is one’s own place,
One’s own people,
One’s own world,
Knowing and known,
Perhaps even
Loving and loved.

 

Yet every child
Is cast from paradise-
Into growth and new community,
Into vast, ongoing
Change.”

Here’s the story:  the world is falling to bits, wracked with economic and environmental crises. People are starving in the streets.  A new drug creates an underworld of fire-starting addicts; watching things burn is said to feel better than sex, on the drug.  Money is nearly worthless, and communities that cannot afford to erect a razor-wire-covered wall are helpless to protect themselves against theft and fire.  Eighteen-year-old Lauren is one of the lucky ones, even though she suffers from a rare condition called hyperempathy, where she physically feels the pain of others-a side effect of the drugs her mother took before she has born.  While her condition is disabling, dangerous, and painful, Lauren is safer than most.   She has a home, a wall, and an education. While she doesn’t share the faith of her minister father, she is far from faithless.  In fact, she has been developing her own religion, in response to the chaos and uncertainty of the world she lives in.  She calls it Earthseed.

When Lauren loses her home and family, she must set out on the treacherous journey north, in search of food and shelter.  The trip is immensely difficult: she and her companions must fight off fire-crazed addicts and potential thieves, carefully preserve what little food and water they have, and be constantly vigilant.  It’s not easy, but they don’t have a choice.

Now, this might sound like the plot of a lot of dystopias out there, right?  Disaster + Must Flee Home = Dystopic Adventure.  The special thing, though, is the way this is written.  It is a compelling, breathtaking adventure story, yes.  However, it’s also a treatise on race and economy, community and compassion.  Butler points an incriminating finger at exploitative corporations and indifferent governments; at the same time, she explores the intersections of gender, race, and social status. It’s a phenomenal story with a built-in social commentary, and it is definitely going on my favorites list.

Author’s website: http://octaviabutler.org/

If you liked this book, you might want to read on! Octavia Butler’s second Earthseed book is called Parable of the Talents.

Happy Reading!

 

Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien

birthmarked“The mother stared at her, shock and horror shifting across her face.  ‘You can’t,’ she whispered. ‘You can’t take my baby.  She’s mine.’

‘I have to,’ Gaia said, backing away.  ‘I’m sorry.’

‘But you can’t,’ the woman gasped.

‘Please,’ the mother begged. ‘Not this one. Not my only.  What have I done?’

‘I’m sorry,’ Gaia repeated…’Your baby will be well cared for,’ she said, using the phrases she’d learned. ‘You’ve provided a great service to the Enclave, and you will be compensated.'”

Gaia is a sixteen-year-old midwife, unlucky enough to live outside The Wall, apart from the privileged, comfortable citizens of The Enclave.  It is her duty to hand over the first three babies she delivers each month-babies who are destined to be adopted by waiting parents in The Enclave.  These children are destined to live a life of comfort and cleanliness, far from the polluted, crowded streets of those living outside the walled community.

When Gaia’s parents are arrested by the very government they worked so faithfully for, Gaia realizes all is not well.  Her parents were keeping secrets-a secret code listing the parents of all the babies who had been sent away to live in The Enclave.  When the government comes after her, Gaia is forced to choose: solve her parents’ code and turn the information over to a government she doesn’t trust, or attempt a risky escape.

Dystopias, everyone! Do we still love them?  I have to say that I do, personally, but I’ve gotten a lot pickier since there are so many great ones out there.  I’m bringing this one to you because it is one on the Great List!  Gaia is smart, strong, and real-feeling; she feels like someone you go to school with, or would like to.  Her job is interesting, and (without spoiling anything) the reason the government needs the delivered babies is double-interesting.  For those of you looking for romance, you’ll find a bit, but it’s not front and center, so if it’s not your thing, you’ll be able to ignore it.  Part mystery, part thriller, part end-of-the-world book, this one is one I didn’t want to put down.

Happy reading!

Author’s website: http://www.caraghobrien.com

If you’re looking for Read-Alikes for Birthmarked, I think you’ll like Parable of the Sower, by superstar science fiction author Octavia Butler-it’s the story of a young women facing a collapsing society, much like Gaia’s.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker also grapples with the collapse of the world as we know, and is told from the perspective of a young woman with an unforgettable voice.  This book feels like poetry for the end of the world.

Life as We Knew It is another disaster story: massive climate change makes the earth nearly inhospitable, and teenager Miranda records it all in her diary.

 

 

The Girl in the Park by Mariah Fredericks

The-Girl-in-the-Park-2 “‘Honey. They found her. In the park.’

They found her in the park.  Playground. Swings. Kids. Good.  So they found her in a nice place, not a motel, which was kind of what I was expecting.

Except…they?  Not her mom?

They found her.  I shake my head, because there’s something weird about found. You find sweaters in the park.  Or lost dogs.  Found is like Wendy’s not a person.  Not a living…

My mom is crying.  That tells me what found means. Why Wendy isn’t a person anymore.  That Wendy is dead.”

Rain and Wendy used to be best friends.  To Rain, Wendy was more than a party girl intent on sleeping with everyone’s boyfriend.  She was the one with the huge heart and offbeat sense of humor, the girl who wasn’t above faking a fainting spell in H&M and who didn’t care what others thought of her.  But when Wendy’s body is found in the park after a wild party, no one seems to remember the good things about her.  Instead, there are nasty rumors about drugs and alcohol.  The sensationalized news reports  are written as though what happened was Wendy’s fault.

Rain knows it wasn’t Wendy’s fault.  In fact, she is pretty sure she knows what happened that night to her friend, and who did it.  Will she gather the courage to speak up, even if the results are devastating?

This is a solid mystery for teenagers, especially budding fans of psychological thrillers.  Rain is a believable, sympathetic character, and the plot keeps readers guessing, without feeling contrived. I finished the book in a night! The author sensitively and realistically portrays issues of predatory teachers, underage alcohol and drug use.  A great pick for teens looking to be gripped with a good thriller.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://mariahfredericks.wordpress.com/

Fredericks, Mariah. The Girl in the Park. Schwartz & Wade: New York,  2012. 217 pp. Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this, try:

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Mr. Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn

Shine by Lauren Myracle

Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah

tenthingsihateaboutme“How can I be three identities in one?  It doesn’t work.  They’re always at war with one another.  If I want to go clubbing, the Muslim in me says it’s wrong and the Lebanese in me panics about bumping into somebody who knows somebody who knows my dad.  If I want to go to a Lebanese wedding as the four hundredth guest, the Aussie in me will laugh and wonder why we’re not having civilized cocktails in a function room that seats a maximum of fifty people.  If I want to fast during Ramadan, the Aussie in me will think I’m a masochist.

I can’t win.”

Jamilah lives a double life: at home, she’s Jamilah, the girl who plays an instrument in an Arabic band and tries to convince her super-strict father to lighten up once in a while.  However, at school, she’s Jamie, with bleached hair, contacts, and endless excuses for why she can never socialize after school.  She just doesn’t want people to see her as a stereotype; she’s afraid they’ll hear Muslim and think extremist.  However, the strain of constantly hiding who she truly is wears on her, and her friends are wondering why she’s never around.  She can’t keep it up much longer-but what will happen if everyone knows the truth about her?

This is Randa Abdel-Fattah’s second novel about Muslim teenagers struggling to find a place within a larger culture that doesn’t always understand or welcome them.  Her characters are complex, from the hijab-wearing activist Shereen, to a father struggling with the task of raising three children alone-he doesn’t want to create strife between him and his children, but he also feels compelled to raise them in line with his core values.  While Jamilah often feels like an outsider because of her cultural identity, she gets great joy out of sharing meals, playing traditional instruments, and speaking Arabic.

Abdel-Fattah takes pains to differentiate between ethnicity, culture, and religion, and explore the different ways they can be expressed in her characters. It may not always be easy to have a hyphenated identity, but Randa Abdel-Fattah opens an important dialog about faith, fear, and the self in her thoughtful, timely novels.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.randaabdelfattah.com

Abdel-Fattah, Randa. Ten Things I Hate About Me. Orchard Books: New York, 2006. 297 pp. Ages 15 and up.

After the Snow by S. D. Crockett

AFTERTHESNOW“I reckon the fire in the house probably gone out by now with no one to feed it cos everyone gone and I been sitting on the hill all day finding that out.  Everyone got taken away cos I seen tracks in the snow.  They all gone.

Dad gone.

Magda gone.

The others gone.

But I don’t know why.”

Willo’s never known a land without the snow.  Long before he was born, the new ice age descended.  It wasn’t easy for humans to adapt; now, most of them reside in poverty and compete for resources in crowded, filthy governmental cities-and they’re the lucky ones.  Willo wasn’t from the city, though-he and his family were stragglers, living illegally in the mountains, far from civilization.  There, they trapped animals, made their own candles, and lived off the land, trying to avoid being detected by officials determined to round them up and take them to the cities.

When Willo returns from a trip in the mountains to discover the rest of his family is missing, he knows that is what must have happened: they must have been trucked into the city.  Now, if there’s any hope of surviving, he’s got to go and find his family.  What he finds, though, is far more sinister.

You might have noticed by now: I love end of the world stories. They are equally terrifying and alluring, and I never get tired of playing How’s It All Gonna End.  Apparently, I’m not alone out there, because post-apocalyptic books just like this one are all over the Young Adult shelves.  This one is a particular favorite at my branch, especially this summer-possibly because the endless frozen landscapes are soothing when it’s 95 degrees for weeks on end.  I think part the appeal is Willo’s voice: his dialect is distinctive.  It feels like poetry of ain’ts and been dones and just gonnas, with incisive comments about human nature and survival.  Another reason why it’s awesome: no preaching here.  It’s easy for a dystopic novel to go into the whole sermon-the one titled: Hey Guys, You Messed Up the World and Now It’s Ruined and So You Best Start Recycling Now, Readers.  And there’s a place for that, of course, but in my experience, it’s not in a book like this. And this book avoids it, without downplaying the seriousness of the situation.  If you like survival stories, tense adventures, conspiracy theories, and stories about the end of things, this is one you’ll dig for sure. FURTHER BONUS: NO ROMANCE.  For those of you who wanna barf every time there’s kissing all mixed up in your adventure novel, you’re all clear here.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:

Crockett, S.D. After the Snow. Feiwel & Friends, New York: 2012. 288 pp.

Now, if you liked this one, try these:

The Knife of Never Letting Go Both are survival stories, and they have similar protagonists and distinctive speech patterns.

Feed The two books share distinctive speech patterns, settings in a dystopian universe, and a sinister governments.  Be warned, though-Feed is sort of set in outer space, so don’t come here looking for a mountain survival story.

Chime  A female protagonist this time, set in the fictional, troubled land of Swampsea.  The language of this book is beautiful and original-really special.

My Side of the Mountain Ok, it’s not set in the end of the world, and it was published a while ago, but it is THE. AWESOMEST. survival story ever, and I’ll never be tired of saying it.

Boy vs. Girl by Na’ima B. Robert

boyvsgirl“Farhana’s  hijab felt heavy now, heavier than it had ever been.  Heaver than when her mum questioned her about it, making her feel as if she had done the wrong thing, that she was on her way to becoming an ‘extremist’.  Heaver than when she found that she was no longer the centre of attention at school.  Heaver than when, after the initial honeymoon period when her wearing the hijab was a novelty and a number of the girls had admired her brave decision, the hype moved elsewhere.”

Farhana and her twin brother Faraz are struggling with life-changing decisions this Ramadan season.  Farhana is trying to decide whether she wants to wear the hijab full-time, even if it probably means losing the attentions a handsome classmate.  Faraz is conflicted, as well:  he’s so bullied at school, for being sensitive and artistic, that he can’t stand it anymore.  Does he pursue his art, or join the gang that promises protection?  During the holiday month, the two struggle with their feelings about religion, freedom, and doing what’s right for themselves.  For Farhana, this means going against her parents’ wishes for her, and for Faraz, it means something far more dangerous.  Ramadan bring change and self-awareness to both twins.

This novel is reminiscent of The Outsiders, with its devoted siblings, clear (to the point of preachiness) distinction between right and wrong, and hey-I’ll say it- the street gangs.   The central conflict is one of identity: what role does faith and religion play in the lives of the twins?  What role would they like it to play?  Farhana’s mother is firmly against her covering herself-she doesn’t want her daughter to lose opportunities or be discriminated against.  Farhana must decide whether she wishes to defy her parents and wear the hijab, or if she’d rather not make such a public declaration of her beliefs.  Faraz knows what Allah says he should do, but it’s so hard to resist the brotherhood and protection of the neighborhood gang.  When a tragedy threatens Farhana’s life, Faraz understands what he must do, even if it feels impossible.

The exploration of identity, religion, and the social universe of the high schoolers makes for fascinating, if not entirely original, reading.  Na’ima Robert brings us a traditional coming-of-age story, but viewed through a different cultural lens.  While the story occasionally veers into a cautionary tale-style narrative, the exploration of deep belief is worth reading.  Robert portrays Farhana’s religious self-searching skillfully and sensitively.  I’d like to know what you think of this one!  It’s a relatively recent book with a very fifties’ feel to it, that’s for sure.

Happy Reading!

Robert, Na’ima. Boy vs. Girl. Francis Lincoln Books: London, 2010.

If you’re interested in reading more books like this one, you might like:

Does My Head Look Big in This? 

The Garden of My Imaan

Bestest. Ramadan. Ever.

I’d like to invite you to read a blog post on this book written by someone who was displeased with this book, as she felt it didn’t realistically address teenagers’ problems, while at the same time it was upholding a “pure” Islam.  Hop on over and see what Sara Yasin at Muslim Media Watch has to say about Boy vs. Girl.